County accelerating body camera program
Baltimore County is accelerating its body camera program and changing some of its police procedures to better understand and improve interactions between officers and citizens.
The hope is that body cameras and other changes
will help the county avoid cases of police involved deaths in the future, said Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, who announced the initiatives at a recent press conference in Towson.
A Middle River man, Tawon Boyd, died at Franklin Square Hospital on Sept. 21 after a violent confrontation with officers who had responded to a call from his apartment for medical help.
Randallstown resident Korryn Gaines was killed on Aug. 1 and her five-year-old son injured after a standoff with police who had come to serve a bench warrant for traffic violations.
Kamenetz said the initiatives announced Oct. 19 were not created in response to the two specific cases but to an accumulation of incidents over time involving police use of force.
The hope is that such incidents can be avoided in the future with a wider use of body cameras and increased training in de-escalating potentially-violent encounters.
Baltimore County States Attorney Scott Shellenberger has also said that body cameras help officers by recording events from their point of view and more often than not, vindi- cating their actions.
“I think it’s a positive thing,” said Dave Patro, president of the North Point Village community association, who also sits on the Precinct 12 citizens advisory committee.
Patro said some residents see the videos as violating citizen privacy rights, but he said most agree that it helps record what actually happened as opposed to relying solely on conflicting accounts.
“You can see the truth right away,” he said.
The county kicked off its body camera program in July with a handful off officers in each precinct receiving training to use them.
Right now 128 officers are wearing cameras with the goal of having most county officers wearing them by December 2018, said Kamenetz, who is authorizing more money for overtime to train more officers sooner.
Forty officers were being trained per month now, and 144 officers will be trained per month in the future, pushing the completion date up by more than a year to September 2017, he said.
The department is also tightening procedures for dealing with sexual assault allegations.
Officers typically work with detectives on such cases, but effective immediately, every second-degree sexual assault victim and the reported assailant will be interviewed by a detective on the department’s sexual assault unit, he said.
The county will also be reviewing three years of sexual assault investigations that did not result in prosecutions with the help of retired Baltimore County Circuit Court Judge Barbara Howe and the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
The third initiative involves an independent review by the Council of State Governments Justice Center of how Baltimore County deals with mentally ill people who do not respond to orders during an incident.
The center will also look into interactions with peo- ple of different cultures and races.
When asked if he thought the department was lacking in cultural comprehension, Kamenetz said he doesn’t look at a glass as half empty but half full.
“[Procedures] can be refined and improved so that we can be the best that we can be,” he said.
Officers are trained to take control of a situation in order to protect the public and themselves, but in recent years, as a result of police-involved deaths around the country and lawsuits about excessive use of force, more emphasis is being put on de-escalation techniques. Follow me on Twitter @VirginiaTerhune.
In early July, 150 patrol officers began wearing body cameras, some of which can be mounted on collars or epaulettes.